Marvel's Physics Consultant Explains the Science of the Ant-Man Suit

Thursday, 08 January 2015 - 10:20AM
Physics
Science of Sci-Fi
Thursday, 08 January 2015 - 10:20AM
Marvel's Physics Consultant Explains the Science of the Ant-Man Suit

In the upcoming Ant-Man movie, Paul Rudd plays a "superhero" who isn't exactly super on his own. Like Iron Man and Batman, his "superpowers" come from his gadgets, specifically his suit. But unlike the Iron Man suit, the Ant-Man suit isn't fitted with lots of intricate bells and whistles; it essentially just shrinks him to the size of an ant. On its face, that doesn't sound like it would make him particularly powerful, but quantum physicist Dr. Spiros Michalakis, who consulted with Marvel on the physics of the Ant-Man movie, explained to Nerdist why Scott Lang would, in fact, derive superpowers from this suit.

 

The simplest way of putting it is that ants are much, much stronger than humans. While a human could obviously take an ant in a fight, ants can lift many times their own mass, while humans' relative strength pales in comparison. This difference is very much the result of ants' diminutive size, as strength is generally dependent on the square of height. "This relationship is why you are objectively stronger than an ant. But you aren't relatively stronger," explains Michalakis. So as an organism gets smaller, its strength does decrease, but exponentially slower than height. So the smaller the organism is, the stronger it is relative to its size.

 

"Very generally, the strength of an organism's muscles is a factor of the cross-sectional area of those muscles. It's the same reason why a bundle of rubber bands are a lot harder to stretch than a single rubber band - the cross-sectional area for the bundle is much larger. And the longer that bundle of bands is, the more strength there is."

 

But even so, how does Ant-Man take on villains that are human-sized? If he is shrunk to the size of an ant, then shouldn't he only be strong relative to his size? Michalakis says no, because the key component to the Ant-Man suit is that it doesn't "shrink" Scott Lang in the sense of decreasing his mass, it just condenses his mass into a tiny, super-strong mini-person: "If Ant-Man's suit can shrink him without the hero's mass changing, you then have a normally heavy human lifting many times a normally heavy human's weight."

 

In addition to super-strength, Lang may also be able to travel in time at will using the suit as a result of the laws of quantum mechanics. He didn't officially confirm that the film would involve Lang shrinking down to the quantum realm, but he coyly stated that if a person were to shrink to a certain point, then they would no longer be governed by any of the laws of the universe as we know it. Quantum mechanics, which governs objects that are incredibly small, like subatomic particles, describes the inherent randomness of the behavior of these small objects. The trends and probabilities that we observe in everyday large objects are the result of all of these fluctuations happening en masse. "Michalakis contends that the physical laws we see the universe operating under are trends in these quantum mechanical probabilities and that if you zoom all the way down, it all disappears. Gravity, relativity, time…everything." So theoretically, if Lang could shrink down to the quantum level, then he would no longer be governed by time, and could travel through it as much as he pleased.

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